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February 15: Over the Rainbow

Lawrence Bush
February 15, 2010

comerain_stlwHarold Arlen (Hyman Arluck), the son of a cantor and a key contributor to the Great American Songbook, was born on this day in 1905. In addition to composing the score for The Wizard of Oz — including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (lyrics by Yip Harburg), which was voted the best song of the 20th century by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America — Arlen composed the music for “Let’s Fall in Love,” “Stormy Weather,” “Get Happy,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “My Blue Heaven,” “I’ve Got the Right to Sing the Blues,” and numerous other standards of popular music and jazz. Among his lyricists, in addition to Harburg, were Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Ted Koehler and Jack Yellen. Arlen was a shy and self-effacing man, which perhaps explains why, in Irving Berlin’s words, “he wasn’t as well known as some of us,” even though “he was a better songwriter than most of us.”
“He is always courageous, intelligent, and incapable of cliché. His songs invariably contain some melodic surprise, some difficulty — which is one of the reasons he has not had the recognition he deserves.”
—Truman Capote on Harold Arlen

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.